Polyphonic Exophilia – Vol. 4 – EP Review
Chances are, by now, you know the name! If you’ve been paying any attention at all to our pages here, and our most recent episodes of the SBS Podcast from the beginning of this year & all throughout the last, you know Polyphonic Exophilia has been featured here in a variety of ways. You know they were nominated to our official top-ten list in 2021 in our annual competition for our Best New Sound. You know that they eventually went on to win their way onto our wall of fame, because 46% of the masses went on to vote them in – YOU voted them as our number one! So don’t pretend you don’t know the ol’ PPXP collective by now – I know that you know, and you know that I know that you know – follow me?
What many people also know, or tend to find out over time…is that these review things I write don’t necessarily get any easier as the years go on…quite often, they get much harder. It all depends on the spectrum of course…where a band or an artist sits on it, where they can go, what they can do, what their skillset is…what they’ve shown to us in the past. That last one is the aspect that makes it the toughest…once I know what you’re capable of, I gotta do my level best to make sure those standards stay as sharp as ever. Considering that Polyphonic Exophilia went on to win our Best New Sound of 2021 with Vol. 3…obviously that’s a milestone that’s gonna be way harder for that next record to live up to.
I’ll fully admit, listening to their most recent single called “Metamorphosis” was like instant confirmation that there’s still plenty of room in the creative realm for PPXP to explore, and highly unique songs still to be discovered in this band’s quickly growing catalog. As imaginative as they are…and overly-excitable at times…it’s gonna be that same wild degree of enthusiasm that they’re gonna wanna keep an eye on, and remain focused on whatever their goals truly are. In listening to the Vol. 4 EP, which was squeezed into the end of 2021 just prior to the clocks ticking over into 2022…I did end up with more questions about this particular record than I had found with the majority of music I’d found on the other three volumes. I started to wonder about what those goals really might be…and whether or not PPXP is going about achieving them in the right way. On the one hand, if they’re looking to make music in the moment and really create an experience that’s different than the rest – they’ve got the art of that craft locked down completely tight, and they’re already masters of that ability & have proven that many times throughout their debut year. On the other hand, if they’re looking to make each moment memorable, I think there’s still room to grow and for Polyphonic Exophilia to evolve even further, and tighten right up. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Vol. 4 almost ends up sounding like a B-sides collection of what didn’t end up on the first three volumes before it…it’s still not really all that far away from how I feel. So you get what I mean? It’s not that I’m not still enjoying it…I’m just not sure how much of it I’m going to remember as opposed to so much of what I’ve heard from them earlier on…and that’s always something to consider. To me, that’s the queue to make sure the balance of speed/quality is reset & remains even. Is there a possibility that PPXP rushed themselves a bit when it came to this particular record? For sure. I don’t know many bands or artists out there that have been moving at the warp speed that this crew has been for the past year; ultimately, inspiration is a great thing, always – and critics are fickle, always – but yes, rushing could be a factor in the final results here. The quality of their musicianship and its colorful charisma never disappoints…but I did feel like they might have been pushing a bit too hard for that self-imposed, end of the year deadline as well with the Vol. 4 EP, and we might have traded a bit of their ability to be memorable in favor of simply more music.
That can be a dangerous trade my friends…but again, it really depends on what their goals really are. For some it’s quantity, for some it’s quality, for those that master the art of it all, it’s a healthy mix between the two I’d reckon…lest we forget, it’s still PPXP’s first year more or less – there are bound to be ups & down along the way of a band like this that pursues as many unique ideas as they tend to do.
Without risk, there is no reward – pass or fail, I’m always going to salute those like PPXP with the artistic courage required to try all kinds of new things. As the bass & synthetic jam of “Don’t Dive In Shallow Waters” started up the Cosmic Funk grooves these dudes are so expertly capable of creating, I felt like we’d be on pretty solid ground…maybe even in for another genuine highlight. When it twisted into a tune with vocals, I could feel the scope narrow a bit…that’s when PPXP is taking us into some of that real hippie-era stuff that Frank Zappa would have been proud to feature in the opening slot at one of his shows. That might work for me and keep me plenty interested, but I’m also well aware of just how many folks have a tougher time following along with that kind of zany musical madness as there are compared to those that dig it, and it’s more of a one-sided scale than some would have ya thinkin’ it is. “Don’t Dive In Shallow Waters” shifts between an absolutely killer quality Jazz-Funk-Soul combination in the musicianship…the vocals on top might give it less of a chance for it to be taken as seriously as it could potentially be. Part of that is simply due to the fact that a lot of what Polyphonic Exophilia does is completely predicated on creating real FUN in the music they make…so I think to a degree, we always have to keep that in mind too…context like that matters, and not everything needs to be so damn serious all the time, you know? That being said…I think of other bands with a similarly raw wildness to them…something along the lines of say…the Chili Peppers back when they were first starting out, long before Blood Sugar Sex Magik came out – if you listen to those tunes, you’ll get the comparison & how it works – the musicianship is still off the charts cool, but the songwriting & vocals still needed to find that voice & gear that completely worked in a convincing way. Let’s be real here – they were a rowdy band at the start – and in many ways, PPXP is too – excitement directly equates to being locked into the moment, which can be a great thing…but it can also lead to less objectivity when it comes to the final results too. It’s hard to come out of creating a song that would be as involved as something like “Don’t Dive In Shallow Waters” would be to make and not be excited about it – that all makes perfect sense to me – it’s really only in having that objective listen, comparing it to past material and the songs intended to surround it on Vol. 4 that we can measure whether or not it really holds up. To stick with the previous comparison that I’ve made – I like the early Chili Peppers stuff…but I LOVE Blood Sugar Sex Magik; and that’s the level of difference here that we’re talkin’ about between the past & the present for PPXP. Trial and error folks…don’t be afraid to make those tough calls and tiny adjustments necessary in order to find what really works for ya. PPXP’s experimenting a bit with the tunes on Vol. 4 more noticeably this time around…some of that works out, others not as much – but everything pushes the band forward if they’re listening to their own music & learning from what they’re creating. Like…mid-tune on “Don’t Dive In Shallow Waters” with the saxophone & guitars & keys all kickin’ out the jams…this band can’t be beat when they’re in that gear; it might still be tough to argue on behalf of the what is & what’s not memorable with the masses aspect, but in terms of a great tune to listen to, the musicianship side of this opening tune is all-out spectacular. And if you dig your 60s/70s era freakout-jams, you’ll be in even better shape & you’ll dig the entire song.
“Creo En Mi” features an incredible guest appearance by Spanish Jazz-artist/singer Esther Paez – she’s got an absolutely sensational voice, and there’s not a doubt in my mind that we’d all agree on that. As far as PPXP is concerned, and the music that flows this track – that’s superb too! Whether or not they actually go together or sound as bonded in that tangibly cohesive way we’re looking for…might be another story if I’m being honest with ya. Sometimes that happens…right pieces, right players, right ingredients…yet not quite the results we’d somehow expect when it all comes out. Think of the some of the most noteworthy collaborations you’ve seen from many of your own musical heroes…they’re all made of verifiable superstars, but sometimes it’s harder for two to shine in the way that one can. In listening to “Creo En Mi,” I found I was either listening to one or the other…I’d be listening to Esther absolutely rock the mic with style, soul, passion, and power, or I’d be listening to PPXP work their psychedelically-inclined grooves in that special way that only they seem to know how – but I’ll admit, it was tougher to feel like I was really experiencing both together at the same time, unified as one here. I could listen to Esther sing all day long any day of the week…and I feel the same way about the way that Polyphonic Exophilia plays as a band as well…so really, I still found myself more than into “Creo En Mi” and had no problem listening to it…but aside from clever timing moments like you experience in the breakdown & whatnot, it was a tougher track to assess when it came to how cohesive this pairing was. They’ve both got insane levels of their own individual magic, and I’d imagine that’s gonna be more than enough to keep just about everyone listening…but objectively, I’m not 100% sure it was as much of a match between styles & sounds as they might have intended it to be. A great performance can carry a song a very long way though…”Creo En Mi” has that both musically & vocally…that’s its main advantage.
And so…yeah…I’ll admit, I struggled a little bit in choosing a cut from Vol. 4 to play on the last episode of the SBS Podcast. I had two slots open for’em…I definitely wanted to spin a song from their Best New Sound-winning Vol. 3 EP, which only left one more available spot. Here I was, listening to an amazing new single called “Metamorphosis” that actually just came out today and wishing I could just play that, because that would have made the choice real easy for me to fill that other space in the show in playing a double-shot from the ol’ PPXP collective. Instead, I ended up choosing “Great Things Are Achieved By Embracing Great Dangers” to play on the show…and I stand by my choice, I still think I’d be partial to this cut as this particular EP’s best tune of the set…or at the very least, the most engaging, potentially. I quite willingly get sucked right into the vortex of the avant-garde and spoken-word side of the musical realm, so with the samples they had up front in “Great Things Are Achieved By Embracing Great Dangers,” this cut had that instant appeal to me. You factor in the amount of genuine fun they’re having with the musicianship on this track, and how bloody awesome it all is…and it’s kinda good-game from there folks – it’s hard to resist this level of musical enthusiasm & passion on display, nor would I recommend anyone trying to. You’d throw your back out trying to resist the instrumentation on display throughout “Great Things Are Achieved By Embracing Great Dangers” – so be careful over there will ya? This does somewhat circle back to the original point I was making though…about keeping the goals in mind for what they wanna do & how they wanna go about it – it’s a rad jam, and I dig it – but I couldn’t guarantee it’s gonna be a cut that the people are gonna remember or feel like they NEED to come back to it, like so many of PPXP’s other tunes. Think of how people absorb media out there…because it’s crucial. Once you put out something new, whatever came before it, is automatically OLDER THAN DIRT in today’s world…that’s something to be highly mindful of, but something you have control over. The case in-point is that PPXP left 2021 with Vol. 4 as the lasting impression as opposed to Vol. 3; with the release of that final EP at the end of the year, they instantly aged the other one in the process by proxy. That’s not to say people won’t find plenty to dig on throughout Vol. 4 – and heck, maybe it’s even better in this regard for the folks to cycle back through the catalog if they do…that way they’re bound to stumble onto even more cohesive sets & magical moments that’ll raise the stakes; but that of course also suggests that the opposite direction & results of that would be equally true as well. As far as my notes tell me here, both “Don’t Dive In Shallow Waters” and “Great Things Are Achieved By Embracing Great Dangers” were examples of Polyphonic Exophilia “blowing off some steam” – which is all well & good…but to circle back to that Chili Peppers comparison from earlier on, that makes this EP Out In L.A. – they wanna make sure we can distinguish the difference between PPXP coming at us full-strength and ready to make the magic happen, as opposed to those moments where they’re “blowing off some steam.” Having it all featured within the same frame as their series of volumes, could be detrimental. In any event, maybe they got lucky here, maybe they didn’t – I still think “Great Things Are Achieved By Embracing Great Dangers” is a particularly badass jam from start to finish, and 100% entertaining to me.
With the final track “Badi Ifrah,” I’ll readily admit – I felt just about exactly the same as I did towards “Creo En Mi” earlier on in terms of the combination of sounds & styles. Both of those tracks have moments where each would outshine the other for a stretch or two, but both cuts also falling just a bit short of the mark in terms of what might keep us coming back for another round. Hard to say of course, we’ll all respond differently based on our own personal tastes & whatnot…I could certainly see myself putting on Vol. 4 if I was in the mood for something adventurous and decidedly unique from so much of what’s out there…but I’d be the first to tell ya that mood doesn’t come along every day for me, and less for most of the people out there by what I can tell. Same as “Creo En Mi” – the ingredients themselves are sensational…guest-star Zelena has a genuinely special and highly expressive voice that reveals remarkable technique and uniqueness all her own, and the ever-reliable Polyphonic Exophilia are still kickin’ out the jams in the background, more subtle than some tunes they make, but just as entertaining for what they choose to include & how the band moves together. So while I might feel that two-layer effect of having two main elements that are both wrestling for top-billing as opposed to feeling more cohesive, I’m once again left in that position where it’s at least easy to acknowledge that the individual parts, vocals & music, sound fantastic. As a song…as something people are going to consistently seek out…I think it’s much tougher to tell – “Badi Ifrah” does have an impressive amount of allure built through its cross-cultural vibes and the Moroccan influence of Zelena’s vibrant vocals…but I couldn’t help feeling like even this tune was still missing just a little bit of something for that memorable moment we’ve been searching for throughout this EP. Ultimately, as far as I understand it from my notes here, “Badi Ifrah” is largely about “longing to be free and happy” – and I’ve got nothing but love for that…I feel like that comes through strongly enough through the expressive vibes of Zelena’s voice and the spirited sound of the music supporting her. For myself personally, I have no problem at all admiring and acknowledging the art their creating in collaboration here…though I also understand that the more adventurous, ambitious, and artistic music can be, the narrower the potential audience becomes. Vol. 4 is still a solid victory in that respect…even though it might be a more challenging record to get into than we’ve experienced from Polyphonic Exophilia so far…one that is unapologetically exploratory, and has a very diverse sonic palette…as far as I know, there are still plenty of people around the world that’ll have no problem digging in on the high level of creativity & relentless imagination found within music like theirs.
Find out more about Polyphonic Exophilia at their official pages below!
Magical Multi-link: https://linktr.ee/ppxp
Listen to music by Esther Paez at Spotify at:
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